Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

I’m sure glad that I didn’t recently write anything in praise of the surge, or the calm in Iraq, or the great progress we’ve made. I was even tempted at times to temper my earlier, very negative opinions of a year ago. My original suspicions are confirmed: violence is always just around the corner.  Iraq is still an unstable country of selfish tribes. There is no unifying principle, leader, or interest among its many peoples.

It’s not surprising that as soon as the Sunnis and Shias stop killing one another–in part because they’ve ethnically cleansed one another from mixed areas–that the various Shia factions start fighting over power and oil revenues. There is no hope for a stable Iraq without a strong leader or a winning tribe in charge of the others. There seems little prospect of either. If Basra’s Shias under Sadr come under control, some other faction will pop up. It’s a hopeless mess, and the patina of democracy and legality masks the enduring reality: the “insurgents” are Iraqi cops, Iraqi soldiers, Iraqi government officials, and others with ties to the pro forma institutions of government. There is no Iraq. Only tribes that ignore, employ, or attack Americans as it is to their perceived advantage. This goes for the Sunni Awakening folks, the Shias in the government, and the Kurds in the North.

McCain suggests national honor is at stake in whether America leaves Iraq. This charge is a reason for pause. But it’s not persuasive. It’s just a habitual response. I imagine that someone like McCain could never tell us when a war is worth quitting:  his soft-hearted and romantic notions of “doing right by the fallen” will be a disaster in a civilian commander in chief. Our honor is intact. It was there the day we handed over sovereignty, toppled the Saddam statue, captured Saddam, graduated the first class of Iraqi soldiers, painted the first school, etc. We tried. The folks who have worked with us have been paid handsomely. We tried too much, in fact, and gave the Iraqis too much credit. These people do not deserve American efforts, American lives, American blood, or American prestige, truly valuable and irreplaceable resources wasted every day in Iraq on some of the worst savages on Earth.

The war is a waste of time and resources. Now we know–as we should have known five years ago–Iraq has no nuclear weapons or nuclear prospects. Now we know–as we should have known three years ago–that no Iraqi democratic model is emerging to inspire its neighbors. Now we know–as we could easily see only one year ago–that the Surge has done very little to alter the permanent, political realities of Iraq; the country is still a chaotic, tribal dump, little better than Somalia. Now we know–as we could see in the 2004 Fallujah battle–that our very presence there increases the appeal and reach and recruiting efforts of al Qaeda, equally as much or more than it does anything to fight them on a strategic level.

The only reason the US should have gone to Iraq was to stop Saddam from getting nuclear weapons, scare would-be threats to the United States, and keep Iran and Iraq’s other neighbors from seeking the power that comes with Iraqi oil. We can do this more effectively today from aircraft carriers and troop ships in the Persian Gulf. It’s time to go, and this silly flare up of intra-Shia tensions is as good of a reason as any to tell the Iraqis that we’ve had enough of their moronic squabbling.

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What can we say about Obama and his contradictions?  He’s the man they faint over like the Beatles.  He is also the guy that earnestly discusses health care policy and other wonkery.  He made a deadpan comment about that Bill Clinton’s dance moves (or lack thereof) would prove if he’s black.  Yet, he’s the Harvard lawyer who eschews sound bites and overt partisanship.

Obama is actually quite brilliant politically.  He talks like a very serious guy, but, if you listen closely, he says nothing.   Just by way of example, Obama says the most important job of the next president “will be to mobilize the American people to move forward.”  This means nothing.  People are nonetheless impressed with his “seriousness” and gravitas.

I think this is mostly because he can ably articualte both sides of an issue.  He rarely sinks to the Clintons’ penchant for describing conservatives as a sinister cabal with bad motives.  His style is a big part of the product because that style is so different from Bush’s.  Where Bush is cocksure, inarticulate, and uses the rhetoric of fear and oversimplification, Obama is deliberate, highly articulate, discusses his opponents’ positions intelligently, and uses the rhetoric of . . . (drum roll please) . . . hope. 

I think he is, however, very unserious.  I know this not because “Obama Girl” exists or shallow women are fainting at his speeches.  Nor is it proven by the insufferable “Yes We Can” video.  He’s unserious because he does not openly face the fact that controversy and unpopular trade-offs are the essence of politics.  This evasion is highly evident when he talks about foreign affairs.  His basic schtick is to change the subject and talk about midnight basketball or health care.

If he were brave rather than slick, he could articulate a more sensible vision of domestic and foreign policy.  He’s really just a product of his party.  Democrats don’t want to hear about trade offs or spending cuts or the need to face al Qaeda. They just want to hear from the Smart Guy Who Will Take Us Out of Iraq and Soak The Rich.  On every other issue, his supporters insert their own beliefs into the empty vessel rhetoric of “hope” and “change.” They are happy because they think Obama is such a great guy for agreeing with them, even though that agreement is only in the ether, so to speak.

Obama is spawning unserious devotion precisely because of his apparent seriousness, which at bottom is not serious at all.  It’s an illusion.  He is a typical  hack Democratic politician, but he happens to speak well and has charisma. He knows if he spoke like Kucinich, he’d lose.  So he conceals his beliefs behind a facade of empty rhetoric. That’s all he’s got.  Some “messiah.” 

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It seems the only time we win in Iraq is when we let the insurgents win.  This may seem ironic; the surge is “working” after all.  But how is it working? Consider the Kurdish success story.  There we have let Kurdish militias friendly to the US run the show, continuing the rump state they established under US protection in the 90s.  The only difference between a militiaman and an insurgent is whether he is shooting at you.  Both are decentralized, lightly armed, and under the control of local elites.  Likewise, in the Sunni regions of Anbar, local militias who have little to do with the central government have been able to oust al Qaeda, restart commerce, and generally chill out.  There the local Sheiks have finally had enough with the fighting and al Qaeda’s depredations went too far.  In the South, the Shia militias have been running the show more or less since the first phase of the occupation.  Their “success” includes thing slike allowing freedom to march all over local Christians, whose womenfolk are being threatened by Shia militias for not wearing the Hijab.  Unlike Anbar and Kurdistan, though, they now are fighting each other for the spoils and are quite disunited.  The same can be said of Kurdistan.  At best, it seems we or any Iraqi government can keep things down to a low-grade civil war.  So long as they’re not working against the US, its forces, or helping Iran harm the US, it could be worse.

The one thing that has not succeeded has been the centerpiece of the US counterinsurgency “hearts and minds” campaign:  democratic elections by the whole country based on unfiltered majority rule.  People in this part of the world don’t want democracy or freedom, at least not the way we understand it.  They don’t act like individuals weighing the ideas and positions of different candidates.  They vote as clans and tribes. They want security and power and almost uniformly vote for sectarian parties.  They have simple political goals, like not being genocided by their centuries-old rivals among other sects and ethnicities.  Elections don’t guarantee that safety, but power-sharing does, and the various factions may reach a modus vivendibased on their collective sense that the war is not going to expel the United States and that it could go on a very long time even if we do leave.  This development has happened not through the strengthening of a central government that, by democratic standards, would be a Shia-majority regime. Instead, each region has been given substantial local autonomy and power with authority retained by traditional elites.  The entire Iraq exercise is unlikely to “shake up” the political culture of the region, but if it lets us leave with some honor intact and without necessitating another US intervention in ten or twenty years, that will be a kind of success.  As in other aspects of the war, by moving away from the neoconservative view that everyone everywhere wants democratic capitalism, a kind of clear-eyed realism allows creative solutions based on local conditions.

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The NIE reported this week that Iran had ceased its nuclear weapons programs in 2003. Many commenters, and most of the participants in the Democratic debate, took this as proof positive of Bush’s bad faith. That may well be true, but consider the timing. As I recall, something rather controversial happened in 2003, and one of its stated aims was to impress would be terrorist-supporting, WMD-pursuing neighbors of Iraq to stand down. I’m just sayin’.

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Tom Ricks, author of Fiasco, has an excellent series of reports on IEDs in Iraq in the Washington Post.  One of the most notable trends is a chart showing the number of IED events since 2003.  The number is five or six times higher in 2006 and 2007 than it was in the first six months after the invasion.  Recall, that was the time when Rumsfeld was dismissing the insurgency as the death throes of “Dead Enders.” In 2003, there probably was some chance to restore order, assuming we had any end game for what a good Iraq government looked like.  Of course, we did not, so these tactical discussions may themselves be a bit of a distraction from the entire operation which was flawed from the get go insofar as it aimed to protect America and reform the Middle East by giving the Iraqis a democratic government.

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General Petraeus advocated a surge. Then he, inexplicably, said it was working so well that it was time to change course again and reduce the surge. I discussed this illogic here. Andrew Bacevich–Army veteran , BU Professor, and father of deceased Army Lieutenant KIA in Iraq–explains the political roots of Petraeus’ backing down from his earlier enthusiasm for the surge in this article in the American Conservative:

If Petraeus actually believes that he can salvage something akin to success in Iraq and if he agrees with President Bush about the consequences of failure —genocidal violence, Iraq becoming a launching pad for terrorist attacks directed against the United States, the Middle East descending into chaos that consumes Israel, the oil-dependent global economy shattered beyond repair, all of this culminating in the emergence of a new Caliphate bent on destroying the West—then surely this moment of (supposed) promise is not a time for scrimping. Rather, now is the time to go all out—to insist upon a maximum effort.

There is only one plausible explanation for Petraeus’s terminating a surge that has (he says) enabled coalition forces, however tentatively, to gain the upper hand. That explanation is politics—of the wrong kind.

Given the current situation as Petraeus describes it, an incremental reduction in U.S. troop strength makes sense only in one regard: it serves to placate each of the various Washington constituencies that Petraeus has a political interest in pleasing.

A modest drawdown responds to the concerns of Petraeus’s fellow four stars, especially the Joint Chiefs, who view the stress being imposed on U.S. forces as intolerable. Ending the surge provides the Army and the Marine Corps with a modicum of relief.

A modest drawdown also comes as welcome news for moderate Republicans in Congress. Nervously eyeing the forthcoming elections, they have wanted to go before the electorate with something to offer other than being identified with Bush’s disastrous war. Now they can point to signs of change—indeed, Petraeus’s proposed withdrawal of one brigade before Christmas coincides precisely with a suggestion made just weeks ago by Sen. John Warner, the influential Republican from Virginia.

The article is worth reading in full. The idea that the Bush administration can dress up its helter skelter lack of strategy in Iraq is much more insulting to the uniform than any propaganda peddled by moveon.org and company.

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Lawrence Auster has an interesting post today that notes that one of the prime engines of neoconservative folly is this idea that everyone “deserves” liberty and that we, therefore, having the ability, owe it to strange peoples to “give them freedom.”

His post reminded me of something I read long ago in the Liberty Fund’s collection of John C. Calhoun’s works, which is now generously available on line. While often a callous defender of slavery (which had little regard for justice and the interests of the people it was supposedly civilizing), like most free people in slave societies, Calhoun had a very detailed and nuanced sense of what it meant to be free and was, accordingly, a thoughtful defender of freedom at least for his own people.  He writes something here of universal application that shows the inherent folly of the neoconservative utopianism:

[T]he worst form of government, is better than anarchy; and that individual liberty, or freedom, must be subordinate to whatever power may be necessary to protect society against anarchy within or destruction from without; for the safety and well-being of society is as paramount to individual liberty, as the safety and well-being of the race is to that of individuals; and in the same proportion, the power necessary for the safety of society is paramount to individual liberty. On the contrary, government has no right to control individual liberty beyond what is necessary to the safety and well-being of society. Such is the boundary which separates the power of government and the liberty of the citizen or subject in the political state, which, as I have shown, is the natural state of man—the only one in which his race can exist, and the one in which he is born, lives, and dies.

It follows from all this that the quantum of power on the part of the government, and of liberty on that of individuals, instead of being equal in all cases, must necessarily be very unequal among different people, according to their different conditions. For just in proportion as a people are ignorant, stupid, debased, corrupt, exposed to violence within and danger from without, the power necessary for government to possess, in order to preserve society against anarchy and destruction becomes greater and greater, and individual liberty less and less, until the lowest condition is reached, when absolute and despotic power becomes necessary on the part of the government, and individual liberty extinct. So, on the contrary, just as a people rise in the scale of intelligence, virtue, and patriotism, and the more perfectly they become acquainted with the nature of government, the ends for which it was ordered, and how it ought to be administered, and the less the tendency to violence and disorder within, and danger from abroad, the power necessary for government becomes less and less, and individual liberty greater and greater. Instead, then, of all men having the same right to liberty and equality, as is claimed by those who hold that they are all born free and equal, liberty is the noble and highest reward bestowed on mental and moral development, combined with favorable circumstances. Instead, then, of liberty and equality being born with man; instead of all men and all classes and descriptions being equally entitled to them, they are high prizes to be won, and are in their most perfect state, not only the highest reward that can be bestowed on our race, but the most difficult to be won—and when won, the most difficult to be preserved.

They have been made vastly more so by the dangerous error I have attempted to expose, that all men are born free and equal, as if those high qualities belonged to man without effort to acquire them, and to all equally alike, regardless of their intellectual and moral condition. The attempt to carry into practice this, the most dangerous of all political error, and to bestow on all, without regard to their fitness either to acquire or maintain liberty, that unbounded and individual liberty supposed to belong to man in the hypothetical and misnamed state of nature, has done more to retard the cause of liberty and civilization, and is doing more at present, than all other causes combined. While it is powerful to pull down governments, it is still more powerful to prevent their construction on proper principles. It is the leading cause among those which have placed Europe in its present anarchical condition, and which mainly stands in the way of reconstructing good governments in the place of those which have been overthrown, threatening thereby the quarter of the globe most advanced in progress and civilization with hopeless anarchy, to be followed by military despotism.

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In the wake of the Cold War, the US military was cut dramatically. We went from a 750,000 man Army to one of about 475,000 today. The Navy and Air Force undertook similar cuts. We went from spending about 5.5% of GDP on the military to 3%. One consequence has been that the “all volunteer force” is stretched thin, has had to make due with relaxed recruiting standards, and there is a great deal of grumbling from senior commanders that the Iraq War and the repeated, lengthy deployments are killing recruiting and retention.

A larger military, both now and in the future, likely would be easier to recruit for and retain manpower, even during a time of war, than the present system. There is a reason for this paradox: such a military would allow greater time between deployments, greater flexibility when a surge of any kind is needed (including for contingencies in other theaters), and it would ease the strain on the battlefield through more overwhelming force whenever a large number of forces may be concentrated. Since one of the missions our troops will likely be called upon in the future is counterinsurgency, large numbers of skilled, trained, and well-rested infantry will be needed. The basic dynamics of this type of war are less technology and more manpower intensive than their counterparts. The U.S. had over 500,000 troops in Vietnam and the French had more than 400,000 in Algeria. We have now approximately 160,000 troops in Iraq. Since our goals in the wake of 9/11 have been so ambitious–indeed, overly ambitious and utopian in my opinion–Rumsfeld and Bush’s continuation of the “peace dividend” military and their failure to demand a larger military (particularly when support would have been high right after 9/11) has proven foolish indeed.

This is not just a matter of 20/20 hindsight. Their decision-making was truly warped. Who looks at the Soviet problems in Afghanistan and blames them on troop levels rather than on the Soviet penchant for “scorched earth” tactics and the inherent unpalatability of its ideology to the religious Afghan people? Who looks at a looming occupation and thinks gratitude will grease the wheels when governance and power are necessary? Who looks at a country the size of Iraq and thinks troop levels that are a fraction of the number of (per capita) police in the peaceful United States will get the job done? The combination of incompetence and ideological blindness is the root of the Bush administration’s failures in Iraq. Some hard-headedness, including about the size of the military, will be needed in the next administration. We should not, because present-day recruiting problems avoid planning for the next conflict in a way that is sustainable, avoids a draft, and allows the military to accomplish the mission.

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William Lind argues that al Qaeda’s previous strengths–its fanaticism and decentralization–may prove its undoing in Iraq:

It is reasonably clear that, contrary to the White House’s claims, the “surge” had little or nothing to do with the improved situation in Anbar province in Iraq. That security there has improved is a fact; a Marine friend who just returned told me the whole province is now quiet. If we look past the Bush administration’s propaganda and ask ourselves what really happened, we may find something of great value, namely a “seam” in Islamic Fourth Generation forces that we can exploit.

As is widely known, the key to turning the situation in Anbar around was a decision by the local Sunni clans and tribes to turn against aI-Qaeda. We did not make that happen, although we did make it possible, not by what we did but what we stopped doing, i.e., brutalizing the local population. Once U.S. forces in Anbar adopted a policy of de-escalation, the sheiks had the option of putting al-Qaeda instead of us at the top of their enemies list. De-escalation was, to use a favorite military term, the enabler.

As is also widely recognized, al-Qaeda itself then provided the motivator by its treatment of local Sunnis. Its error was one common to revolutionary movements, trying to impose its program before it had won the war. Worse, it did so brutally, using assassinations, car bombings that caused mass casualties and other typical terror tactics. Some reports suggest the final straw for Anbar’s Sunnis was a demand by foreign al-Qaeda fighters for forced marriages with local women.

Again, in itself this is nothing new. Where we may begin to perceive something new, a potential seam in Islamic 4GW operations, is in al-Qaeda’s response to its own blunder. It has refused to change course.

When other revolutionary groups have alienated the population by unveiling their program too soon, before they consolidated power, their leadership has quickly ordered a reversal. Mao had to do so, and so did Lenin, in the famous NEP of the early 1920s. Competent leadership usually understands that a “broad front” strategy is a necessity until their power is so great it cannot be challenged.

Why doesn’t al-Qaeda’s leadership do the same? Here is where it starts to get interesting. Perhaps they have not done so because they cannot.

Unlike Bolsheviks and other revolutionary parties that acted within a state framework and modeled themselves on the governments of states, Fourth Generation entities based on religious or “cause” appeals cannot practice what the Marxist-Leninists called “democratic centralism.” They cannot simply issue orders from the top and have those orders obeyed. Their organizations are too loosely structured for that. The leadership can inspire and give general guidance, but it cannot do much more than that. It cannot get its fighters to do things they don’t want to do, or stop doing things they very much do want to do.

Here we may see a flip side of the de-centralization that makes 4GW entities so difficult for states to fight directly. One of state armed forces’ favorite tactics, going after the leadership, has been shown over and over again not to accomplish much because local 4GW fighters do not depend on that leadership. But just as they do not depend on it, they also do not have to obey it. Their autonomy cuts both ways.

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Like many of the neoconservatives, I spent many years at the University of Chicago where I studied under Leo Strauss’s acolytes: Leon Kass, Joseph Cropsey, and Nathan Tarcov. I did not always agree with them, and some of the basic flaws of neoconservatism were apparent in their thought–such as the excessive concern with equality and the lack of concern for America’s Christian heritage–but these defects in his students’ thinking were not apparent in Strauss’s own writings. Indeed, very few of Strauss’s teachings can be easily found in the crude, pro-democracy ideology of Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan, Paul Wolfowitz, and their fellow travellers. I recall instead that many of Strauss’s teachings called into question the “progressive” and democratic beliefs of the modern age.

University of Dallas Professor Tom West, whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet, offers an excellent description of Strauss’s foreign policy views in this piece in the Claremont Review. In particular, he vindicates him from the common charge that his teachings undergird the “benevolent hegemony” viewpoint of the most prominent neoconservative foreign policy theorists, viz.:

Strauss concluded the passage quoted above by remarking that the lesson of the Cold War is that “political society remains what it always has been: a partial or particular society whose most urgent and primary task is its self-preservation and whose highest task is its self-improvement.”

In his book What Is Political Philosophy? Strauss addressed the grounds of that lesson in the principles of classical political philosophy. For the classics, wrote Strauss, foreign policy is primarily concerned with “the survival and independence of one’s political community.” For that reason, “the ultimate aim of foreign policy is not essentially controversial. Hence classical political philosophy is not guided by questions concerning the external relations of the political community. It is concerned primarily with the inner structure of the political community….”

For Strauss, then, who closely followed the classics on this subject, foreign policy is ministerial to domestic policy, because “self-improvement” or human excellence is the “highest task” of politics. The purpose of foreign policy is therefore to secure the means, admittedly the “urgent and primary” means, namely, preservation, or national security, to that high end. For that reason, Aristotle singled out Sparta for strong criticism in his Politics. Sparta’s error was to organize its laws around the belief that the purpose of politics is the domination of other nations by war.

Thus according to Strauss, the purpose of foreign policy is or ought to be survival and independence, or self-preservation, and nothing else.

Robert Taft couldn’t have said it much better himself.

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The Surge and the Numbers

Two good pieces from DNI:  one talks about how the military’s conventional war culture is contributing to our failures in Iraq, and the other article analyzes why the Surge is nothing special and barely increases our troop levels from what has prevailed over the last three years.  There’s no reason to think it will accomplish anything useful, other than move around violence, and the same problems will persist in the form of asymmetric threats, revanchist Ba’athists, and a corrupt Iraqi regime.

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War and Rhetoric

Asked by Senator John Warner (R-VA) if the war made the US safer, General Petraeus said “I don’t know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind.” Wow.

To begin, there is something to be said for the professional soldier who focuses on the immediate mission to the exclusion of broader foreign policy goals. This is part and parcel of the traditional apolitical ethos of the American officer corps. The professional soldier doesn’t necessarily benefit by spending much deep thought on the vagaries of this or that administration’s foreign policy. Indeed, an attitude that is too independent and too critical of the civilian leadership’s foreign policy can be dangerous and undemocratic. But this kind of cultivated indifference is more important and more defensible for a Sergeant Major or Company Grade officer than someone of Petraeus’ rank. For a General, whose mission includes such political activity as selling the mission to a skeptical Congress, it is unavoidable to consider the policy and, one would hope, ultimately endorse it.

Petraeus is undoubtedly an expert in counterinsurgency and realizes that it is an amorphous and ambiguous kind of war. It runs against the grain of traditional conventional military training and operations, not least because the goal is to use the least violence in a broader campaign to win the allegiance of a contested citizenry–indeed, their allegiance is the true center of gravity. Undoubtedly, he knows too that morale of soldiers and a nation’s citzenry can ebb and flow in such a campaign. Not only is the fight asymmetric, but the moral clarity that comes from an existential war like WWII is lacking.

Two years ago, I wrote on the related matter of the Iraqi Army’s lack of motivation:

Pseudosophisticates like to say soldiers don’t fight for ideals, but they fight for their buddies. That may be true in a firefight, but in a years-long slogging counterinsurgency, he who is fighting for something will win, because the moral level of war–both for the fighters and for the population in which the fight takes place–is most important. Soldiers not fighting for anything may soon deem it best to keep a low profile, as became evident in the latter years of US involvement in Vietnam. Confusion about the morale of their own society has led Bush into error in Iraq about means that may ultimately metastasize into a strategic failure. “Training up” Iraqis and making a democratic regime is not enough. Those Iraqis and that regime must conceive their country to mean something, before they can deem it worth fighting and dying for in opposition to terrorists that would do them harm. Surely most Shias and Kurds don’t want terrorism or Ba’athist rule. But not wanting that is not enough without a concrete alternative, with known (or conceivable) rhythms, mores, and traditions.

Our soldiers are no different. They are not apolitical vagrants loyal to nothing but their unit, akin to the French Foreign Legion. Pace critics who decry the growing civil military gap, soldiers still take an oath to the Constitution and serve primarily to “serve their country.” The military’s purpose is to further the broader goals of the elected US leadership; they defer to its judgment that a policy contributes to the nation’s safety. The American military is historically uncomfortable with undertaking abstract, ideological crusades. I said rather strongly in a recent entry, “Military force may be expended justly, in my view, only when that nation’s interests are at stake, not simply to help victims of political violence, including cases of genocide. It is an abuse of the public trust for a free nation’s armed to dispatch its armed forces and public funds on such crusades”

When a nation’s army consists of citizens whose oath is to the Constitution, it is important that the President and his Generals make it clear to the servicemen, their families, and their fellow citizens that everything the military is asked to do is asked in light of this principle of the military as a public trust. That is, everything they are being asked to do should serve America’s national security. When our troops were looking for WMD and al Qaeda in Iraq, this was a reasonably persuasive argument, even if it was also debatable. But increasingly, our troops are propping up a corrupt Shia government and friendly Sunni tribal elements with arms, munitions, and training to prevent the escalation of a seemingly interminable Iraqi Civil War. This simply won’t do.

Surely, General Petraeus realizes that the support of the home-front is a fragile though necessary element of a successful counterinsurgency campaign. This makes his insouciance on the Iraq mission all the more puzzling. Petraeus, if anyone, should know that he must be able to look each of his troops in the eye and say this is worth risking your life for, or . . . if he is truly a man of honor and not a mere careerist . . . he should quit.

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Drawdown of Troops

It seems very illogical for Petraeus (and his defenders to say): The surge is working, more troops have been the answer, we’ve seen linearly better results with more troops, the goal of clearing and holding requires lots of troops, it may take six months to see where we are, but it’s a good idea to start ending the surge and reducing troop levels now. I think we should reduce and redeploy troops for other reasons, but that is a separate issue. If the surge is a good idea that’s working, what consideration other than domestic political jockeying justifies a drawdown. And, since earlier drawdowns–after the Iraqi elections for example–led to an increase in violence as areas were turned over to Iraqi control or left unpatrolled altogether, what’s the reason to think that won’t happen this time?

There is something increasingly farcical about our post-’03 Iraq strategy. First it was to find WMD. Then it was to give the Iraqis democracy. Then it was to fight Al Qaeda, which in fact only made up a fraction of the insurgents. Eventually, the goal became the idea that we should accomplish something– anything! –to protect our regional and global interests. Now it seems, our strategy has reached its nadir: since we can’t do that, at least we can say we’re withdrawing, and we can call this a victory. We can do this even though no Iraqi political settlement is in sight under the Maliki regime, and nothing good will really have come from our presence in Iraq. Indeed, our ultimate accomplishment of getting rid of Saddam will have strengthened Iran, which is a serious threat to global peace that rivals al Qaeda.

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